Arthur was at Merlin’s side in seconds, screaming for Gaius, hoping the physician was close by or soon would be. “Merlin…” He took the man’s face in his hands. His skin was already cold and clammy. “Merlin…” he called again. “MERLIN!” Arthur shouted, and the young man’s eyes blinked open as he gasped raggedly.
“Arthur…” Merlin wheezed, his voice choked and raspy. He coughed painfully. “What?” He sounded confused.
“What happened?” Arthur asked as Merlin continued to struggle to breathe. Merlin’s eyes flickered to his right, his hand already stretched out in that direction, and Arthur looked over, reaching out with one hand to pick up a small bottle that had rolled across the floor. The paper said some name of a potion that Arthur didn’t recognize, but it had a skull and crossbones drawn on it. Arthur’s eyes widened as he gaped at the bottle before shouting again, “GAIUS!”
“Who did this to you?” he asked turning back to Merlin. Merlin looked up at him with pain filled eyes that soon leaked with tears. Tears which ran over Arthur’s fingers as Merlin’s lungs fought for air.
“M’ S’rry.” Merlin murmured and then went limp again in Arthur’s hands, though still breathing, if more and more shallowly.
“No…” Arthur murmured. “MERLIN!” he shouted, but this time his manservant didn’t awake. “GAIUS! HELP! ANYBODY HELP!” His voice was desperate, and he realized tears were pricking his own eyes as Merlin’s face blurred in his view. He was losing him. He had thought the nightmare was over, that they were both home and safe, but now it seemed he had stumbled into an even worse nightmare. “GAIUS!” he gave one last desperate shout. His voice broke, and he gasped. The air reached his lungs in a strangled noise dangerously close to a sob. Just as he was about to give up hope he heard the pounding of feet up the steps, and the air rushed out of him in relief.
Gaius was beside him in seconds. “What happened?”he asked, and Arthur handed him the bottle, hearing the physician gasp as he saw what the contents had been.
“Can you help him?” Arthur asked, his eyes swimming with tears he refused to shed.
Gaius ignored the question. “Quick! Help me get him to my chambers!” Arthur thought Gaius was talking to him and was just trying to figure out how he would do that with his injuries, when two strong arms came out of nowhere, lifting Merlin up. Arthur’s gaze followed the arms up to the normally cheerful face of Sir Gwaine. Now his face was still and stony, his brows furrowed in determination, but his eyes brimmed with pain and fear.
He followed them into Gaius’ chambers and tried to stay out of the way as Gaius moved around faster than Arthur thought was possible. “We need to get him to vomit up the poison.” Gaius stated, finally returning with something. He pinched Merlin’s nose and poured it in his mouth, clamping a hand under his chin until he was sure Merlin had swallowed most of it.
“Help me get him on his side.” he instructed Gwaine and Arthur. Gwaine positioned himself at Merlin’s shoulders and Arthur at his legs. Gaius held a bucket up to Merlin’s head as the pale man’s body convulsed and he began to wretch. Arthur couldn’t help but wince and look away for a moment but was too concerned about his manservant to keep his eyes averted for very long.
It seemed to last forever, but finally Merlin’s body seemed to relax underneath his palms. Gaius wasn’t finished though. He raced around the room mixing potions which he made Merlin drink and even at one point used leeches trying to get out most of the poison from his bloodstream.
When he was finished, he sat down beside Merlin with a sigh. “Now all we can do is wait.” he stated, breathing deeply and dabbing at his brow with a handkerchief. Merlin still looked pale, his brow was sweating, but he seemed to be breathing a little easier.
Gwaine turned to Arthur. “What happened?” he asked. There was no malice in the knight’s tone, just a need to know the truth and the desire to hunt down whoever had done this to Merlin. Arthur felt the same way but had no answers.
“I don’t know. I found him like that.” Arthur stated, and even though he was sitting beside the bed now, he felt his hands and arms start to shake. After all he had been through, he didn’t think he would be able to handle losing his closest friend.
“Sire,” the physician’s tone sounded patronizing, and Arthur knew what was coming next. He didn’t look at him. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Merlin… he was acting strange… I wanted to check on him.” he stated, lifting his head up to glance at Gaius and Gwaine.
“Gwen, I’m sure, would have been happy to check on him for you sire, though I’m pleased that she was saved from finding him in this state.” Gaius’ voice was still reprimanding, but gentler now.
“I needed to see for myself that he was alright. After what we went through...” Arthur trailed off quietly, his hand shaking as he brought it up to his mouth and then dragged it across his eyes. Something Gaius said caused him to stiffen. His eyes flashed towards the men seated next to him. “Gwen… she’ll be wondering where I am.”
“I’ll find her.” Gwaine stated. “Tell her you’re alright.”
He took one last look around the room as if to make sure there were no intruders. “Lock the door behind me, will you, Gaius? Just in case.”
Gaius hesitated, and looked like he was going to say something, but only nodded and followed the man out. “I’ll be back as soon as I tell her.” he stated.
Gaius returned and sat down next to Merlin. Arthur was on the opposite side of Merlin’s bed.
“Is he going to make it?” Arthur asked.
Gaius hesitated. “His body needs to fight off the poison still, but yes, I think he will. It’s a good job you found him when you did, sire. If we had been even a few minutes, later there would have been nothing I could do.”
Arthur shivered again at the thought. “Who would have done this Gaius?” he asked. “And did Merlin know? He was acting very odd.”
Gaius frowned. “He hasn’t seemed that different since he returned, sire. His worry for you had dampened his spirits some, but nothing he did seemed out of the ordinary. He hasn’t told me anything about what happened, though I have had many questions. I’m afraid tending to you, I may have neglected searching out the answers. It’s possible that Merlin was more scarred by the capture than I believed.”
Arthur stared at the man, not sure what he was implying. “What are you trying to say?” he asked.
Gaius stared at him a moment before answering with a question of his own. “Was there anyone you met coming out of the room?”
“No.” Arthur stated.
“Did he ingest the poison from a drink? Or did he take it straight from the bottle?”
Arthur didn’t like where this line of thinking was going, but he answered anyway. “There was no drink , just the bottle.”
“It is unlikely that someone forced him to drink it, Arthur, I fear that he may have…”
“No!” Arthur practically shouted before Gaius could continue. He didn’t need to hear that; he had enough of his own demons to deal with without having to deal with Merlin’s as well. “No… he wouldn’t.” Arthur stated. “Not Merlin.”
“He is human like anyone else, Arthur.” Gaius continued gently, “Who knows what Garlock did to him in those cells? He may not have returned with any physical injuries, but magic is very powerful and sometimes leaves no visible scars.” Gaius sounded weary even now after having caught his breath.
Arthur knew that for a fact. He could feel the scars on his own heart and soul. What the sorcerer had done to him in those cells was probably something he would never tell anyone, but he didn’t feel like killing himself. He was free now, and so was Merlin. What could that sorcerer have done to Merlin to make him think that his life should end even after being free? Garlock had already taken so much from Arthur, was he still trying to break him even after his death?
A strangled gasp jerked Arthur out of his musings. “What?” Merlin breathed looking around. “What…” he repeated as though he couldn’t find words to complete his question.
“You were poisoned, Merlin.” Arthur told him glancing at Gaius as though challenging him to say otherwise. “Gaius was able to save you, but just barely. Who did this to you?” he asked, the urgency of his emotions reaching the tone of his voice.
Merlin’s eyes finally latched onto Arthur’s, and then he started breathing fast. “No… No… nonono…” He brought his shaking hands up to his head and continued to moan. “No, no, no… I can’t… I can’t…” The man was suddenly sobbing uncontrollably and his breathing was far too fast. Gaius was up and moving around again as Arthur reached out a hand to calm the servant.
“No! Don’t touch me!” Merlin shied away from Arthur and stared at him with wide eyes. His voice was filled with pleading and dread, not malice or contempt. Arthur stared at his servant’s wide eyes, eyes full of fear and sadness. “No.” Merlin continued to chant the one syllable word over and over again in between gasping large gulps of air.
He suddenly curled up in a ball and continued to groan and cry. “Gaius?” Arthur called, still not touching Merlin, afraid to after his outburst.
Gaius came back with a cup which he helped Merlin to drink. “It will help you sleep, lad.” Gaius stated. Merlin took the cup reluctantly and then collapsed onto the bed, his breathing evening out, his eyes closing very slowly. Arthur began to relax, but Merlin just then looked at him with eyes full of regret.
“You should have just let me die.” he whispered before falling asleep, and Arthur felt like someone had just punched a hole in his stomach. His worst fears were becoming truth and this new nightmare was just beginning.